I Would Meet You Anywhere

By Susan Kiyo Ito (Oakland)
Mad Creek Books (Nov. 4, 2023)

Susan Kiyo Ito’s new memoir, I Would Meet You Anywhere, was released on November 4, 2023.

The first time Susan Kiyo Ito met her birth mother – after decades of wondering where she came from – the reception was icy. The woman before her in the Midwestern hotel room didn’t smile and spoke in a cold voice.

“She hates me,” Ito, then 20, thought as she shrank into her chair. 

So begins Ito’s memoir, “I Would Meet You Anywhere.” Thirty years in the making, the book is the story of Ito’s search for her birth parents as well as her effort to grapple with being hanbun-hanbun – half Japanese, half white. Part detective story, part critical analysis of closed adoptions, part exploration of the roller coaster relationship with her birth mother, “I Would Meet You Anywhere,” is a moving testimonial to the importance of knowing one’s origins. And the long tail of history.

Ito, who lives in Oakland, was adopted in 1959 by two loving Japanese-American parents when she was three and a half months old. Raised in a pale-green ranch house in Park Ridge, N.J., Ito was surrounded by an extended Japanese-American family who all trekked into New York City on Sundays to attend church. Unlike 120,000 other Japanese Americans, Ito’s family had not been incarcerated during World War II since they lived on the East Coast. 

Ito’s classmates would ask her what she was. That’s because she didn’t look like anyone else in her town, which was predominately white. Her parents were frank about her adoption and shared the little they knew about her biological background. They thought her birth mother was an art student. They didn’t have any information about her birth father.

Ito longed to know her beginnings. When she was a 19-year-old college student, she began her search for her birth parents in earnest. It began with a trip from Ithaca to New York City to attend a meeting of the Adoptees’ Liberty Movement Association in New York City, an organization that advocates for opening up adoption records. In New York  – the state in which Ito was adopted – records were sealed, meaning Ito could not find out any identifying information about her birth family. The only information she had was the city in which she was born and the name of the adoption agency. 

The story of how Ito uses her nascent investigative skills to essentially trick the state, a local hospital, and an unsuspecting doctor into revealing her birth mother’s name is a delight. It’s one small victory that shatters the wall of silence that Ito and thousands of other adoptees can face.

That sleuthing allows Ito to walk into that Midwestern hotel room. While she is finally reunited with her birth mother, (whom she calls Yumiko Noguchi, a pseudonym), the relationship they develop is anything but smooth. They have a lot in common. They look alike (Ito is astonished to see that she and her mother share large hands and calves). They both love ice cream. Ito is impressed by her birth mother’s sense of style.

But Ito’s birth mother was warm and embracing one moment, frosty and remote the next. She introduces Ito to her other children and even invites her to a family wedding — but won’t let her sit at the family table. She cuts off contact with Ito numerous times, including when Ito presses for details about her birth father. That on-and-off relationship caused Ito pain and still confounds her today. 

Ito discovers that her birth mother was interned in a Japanese concentration camp during World War II. When her family was released, they couldn’t return to the West Coast since all their property had been sold. So, they were relocated to the Midwest and lived isolated from other Japanese-American families. Ito surmises that this dislocation contributed to her birth mother’s shame when she became pregnant at 27 in the late 1950s. But she never knows for sure since her birth mother is mum about what happened. 

Ito’s birth mother never reveals the name of Ito’s birth father. It takes a friend with advanced genealogical investigative techniques to locate Ito’s paternal aunt. I don’t want to give away the surprise, but the warm and accepting relationship Ito’s father’s family offers is healing in a way the one offered by her biological mother is not. 

Ito’s birthmother is still alive at 91. The two have sporadic contact. Ito has told her birth mother about the memoir. They are still communicating.  

More new books, from Bay Area and Northern California authors, listed by release date.

Inflamed: Abandonment, Heroism, and Outrage in Wine Country’s Deadliest Firestorm

By Anne E. Belden and Paul Gullixson
Permuted Press (Oct 31, 2023) 

Just after midnight on October 9, 2017, hundreds of senior citizens from two upscale living facilities found themselves trapped on a hillside in Santa Rosa, desperate to escape the flames of the deadly Tubbs Fire. Some were blind, confined to wheelchairs, or suffered from dementia. Anne E. Belden and Paul Gullixson, both longtime journalists and local residents, recount the harrowing tale of the fire, the seniors’  rescue and what happened in the aftermath. Could this happen again? Belden and Gullixson say yes as climate change is leading to hotter weather and more cataclysmic fires. 

Portal: San Francisco’s Ferry Building and the Reinvention of American Cities

By John King (Berkeley)
W.W. Norton (Nov. 7, 2023)

When San Francisco’s Ferry Building was erected in 1898, it instantly became the symbol of the city, even surviving the disastrous earthquake and fire of 1906. But over time, as the automobile rose in prominence, the Ferry Building shrank in importance. First the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges, both engineering marvels, became more modern symbols. Then a double deckered freeway cut the Ferry Building off from the rest of the city. In Portal, King, the urban design critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, recounts the rise and fall and subsequent rise of this architectural landmark weaving in the stories of the people who conceived it, betrayed it and ultimately resurrected it. 

The Worlds I See: Curiosity, Exploration, and Discovery at the Dawn of AI

By Fei-Fei Li (Stanford)
Flatiron Books, (Nov. 7,2023)

Fei-Feil Li has spent two decades at the forefront of artificial intelligence. Her path to the top was not easy, as her memoir shows. Her family emigrated from China, going from the middle class to a life on the edge. Her mother, the main breadwinner, got sick, deepening the family’s struggle to get a toehold in their new land. But Fei-Fei’s adolescent knack for physics propelled her into the top echelons of science, where she created ImageNet, a product that was a major catalyst of artificial intelligence. In “The Worlds I See,” Fei-Fei explores her past and defines the promise and peril of AI.

Survival Food: North Woods Stories by a Menominee Cook

By Thomas Pecore Weso (Healdsburg)
Wisconsin Historical Society Press (Nov. 7, 2023)

Thomas Pecore Weso grew up on the Menominee Indian Reservation in Wisconsin in the 1980s and 1990s. In this posthumous memoir, Weso explores his memories of food and place and the political currents of the era. “I cannot separate foods from the moments in my life when I first tasted them,” he writes. His family’s pantry had food from hunted, fished, and gathered sources; commodity government foods like canned pork, dried beans, and powdered eggs; and food from the culinary traditions of the German, Polish, and Swedish settler descendants in the area. These coming-of-age tales take readers from Catholic schoolyards to Native foot trails to North Woods bowling alley.

Deep Care: The Radical Activists Who Provided Abortions, Defied the Law, and Fought to Keep Clinics Open

By Angela Hume (Berkeley)
AK Press (Nov. 14, 2023)

Deep Care is the story of generations of activists and health care workers who defied the law to provide underground abortion services at the Women’s Choice Clinic in Oakland, CA . Angela Hume, who teaches writing at UC Berkeley, interviewed dozens of women to shine light on the secret history of this clinic and reveal the risks the workers took to ensure women’s access to health care. Their actions take on new resonance following the Supreme Court’s 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson decision and the devastation to abortion access nationwide.

Hanging the Devil

By Tim Maleeny (San Francisco)
Poisoned Pen Press (Nov. 14, 2023)

“Hanging the Devil” takes place in San Francisco where a pair of brazen robbers use a helicopter to smash through a skylight in the Asian Art Museum and make off with a priceless statue. Witness to this escapade – and the murder of a museum guard – is 11- year-old Grace. Who will protect her? Why, Cape Weathers, the private investigator Maleeny has featured in a number of his mysteries.

Milton Friedman: The Last Conservative

By Jennifer Burns
Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Nov. 14, 2023)

In Milton Friedman, the first full biography to employ archival sources, Stanford historian Jennifer Burns explores the life of one of the most influential economists of the twentieth century. Friedman, the winner of the 1976 Nobel Prize in economics for his work on consumerism, extolled the virtues of a free market economy with minimal government intervention. He believed that the only social responsibility of business was to increase profits. Friedman’s anti-governent, anti-tax views captured the attention of President Ronald Reagan and U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, both of whom employed him as an advisor.